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If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking a few times a month, and it's better late than never! Most reviews nowadays are labeled "FTP:" and you should read THIS PRIMER to understand why. Also, while they're marked nowadays, many of the site's older reviews (i.e. 2010 or older) do contain unannounced spoilers, so tread carefully! Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Tarot (2024)

MAY 5, 2024

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL, TEEN
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

With precious little on-screen to engage me, I spent a little time during Tarot almost impressed that something so witless and uninspired could make it to theaters in the year 2024, because it felt like a movie we might have seen in maybe 2006 and said "Why didn't this go direct to DVD?" The movie was so bland that I also considered if the bigger studios decided to combat streamers by making their OWN forgettable pap that is best watched with your hands alternating between your laundry and your iPhone (and Sony would be a prime candidate for that considering they're the only one without a service of their own, which means most of their movies end up on Netflix anyway). I mean, we've all seen bad PG-13 horror movies before, but there's something particularly by-the-numbers with this one, to the extent that I momentarily theorized that they were going to spring some kind of Cabin in the Woods scenario on us and thus the generic feeling was intentional.

But no, it ends exactly as you'd expect it to, with the heroine running around a house dodging the film's villain while trying to enact her first/last/only plan to defeat it (any guesses as to whether or not it works?). Actually I take that back; the film's one (1) surprise moment is that it cuts to the credits after using its one allowed F-bomb, something most PG-13 horror doesn't bother to utilize as it (presumably?) gives them more leeway for the violence. But since pretty much everything happens off-screen, with a splash of blood flying on a phone or wall or whatever telling you the character died, they barely even hit those MPA-sanctioned levels. And it's not that PG-13 horror is inherently bad (Insidious and The Ring are a. great and b. among the obvious inspirations for this one), but from top to bottom everything about what we see on-screen feels like the result of asking a focus group what they'd like to see in a teen-aiming horror movie, without any semblance of genuine inspiration.

What makes that even weirder is the fact that this is credited as being based on a book called Horrorscope (this film's title until it was changed to Tarot, keeping in line with the film's stunning lack of ambition), but they completely changed the story. The 1992 novel by Nicholas Adams was a whodunit slasher where the killer was going after some teens, one for each Zodiac sign and killing them with something related to their sign (i.e. Aries, the ram, is strangled with a wool scarf). This is a full on "The Ring meets Final Destination" supernatural affair; our idiot college kids find a creepy tarot deck (more on this soon) and one of them uses them to read a horoscope, each one corresponding to their later death (so like one guy is said to rush into things and make rash decisions, and something about ascending numbers - when he sees the ghost later, he runs right into an elevator). It doesn't even use the whole zodiac; there's only seven of them so five signs are left out (consider yourself blessed to not have any character to immediately compare yourself to if you're one of the MIA signs; me being a Pisces, I got to say "Oh that's my counterpart" for the character with the stupidest death in the whole thing). So they had a story to go on with more victims, and decided to make up their own really idiotic one with half the numbers? OK, movie.

And where did the deck come from? Oh, you know, the locked basement full of antiques and oddities in the basement of the stately mansion these college kids have rented from Airbnb. Standard stuff. It was such a bizarre setup that I kept thinking (man, I sure spent a lot of this movie thinking about ways it could be better, huh?) that it had to be part of the plot, that either the girl who "rented" the place was actually setting all her friends up to die for some kind of sacrifice, or at the very least the owners would have been evil as well (this is what generated my Cabin in the Woods line of thinking, in fact, thinking that any object in the basement might have spelled their doom), but no. I guess in the universe that this movie takes place, people just rent out 10,000 sq. foot mansions in the middle of nowhere on AirBNB and hope that the randos who stay there don't steal any of their priceless artifacts.

Later when they start realizing that their friends are dying in a manner related to their horoscope readings, they google "Divination" or something basic like that and click on one of the first matches, leading them to someone who can help who thankfully only lives a few hours away. Upon realizing that the expert would be an older woman, I asked myself "Will it be Lin Shaye or Olwen Fouéré?", chuckling when it was indeed the latter (because again: zero inspiration here; in fact Fouéré appeared in one of the trailers beforehand as yet another of her exposition ladies). This whole section of the movie is either the result of some serious re-editing or just a total lack of giving a crap, because not only does the concept of geography cease to exist (they say her character is three hours away, yet when the car obligatingly breaks down on the way home, they are luckily only about a block from their front door, it seems), but Jacob Batalon's character, who on the way to her house repeated his horoscope and began fretting about ways to avoid any situation that resembled the ones in the reading, reacts to Fouéré's confirmation that they are indeed cursed by saying they're all crazy for beieving it. And then the main girl basically repeats his own theory back at him as if it's something that just clicked! I actually laughed at how backwards it was.

It's also one of those movies that seemingly exist in a world where everyone is asleep 24 hours a day, because I don't think there's a single extra on-screen. At one point a guy drops off one of the other friends at her dorm (no one else around) and proceeds to walk to the subway station, down the corridors, etc. without as much as a nighttime janitor sweeping the floors. And this is supposedly Boston (actually Serbia save for a couple of presumably licensed shots of the Boston cityscape), so the idea that you can walk a block in any direction without encountering other pedestrians and/or a Dunkin Donuts to run into for safety is beyond absurd. But it just adds to the phoniness of the whole thing, and again makes it feel like a Netflix production (famously frugal when it comes to hiring background extras; it's really noticeable and weird).

So what's good? Well, the design of the various ghosts is about the only thing on-screen that feels inspired; they're all based on the tarot cards (the Fool, the Devil, the Magician, etc) and if this movie was at least a 3/5 I'd even consider getting the NECA figures down the road if they existed. It's a shame it's so bad, because you can see the franchise potential here: there are 78 cards! Assuming they swapped them out and brought back favorits, there's plenty of sequel possibilities with these inspired designs. But alas, based on the box office there won't be a Tartwo, so we have to settle for this handful of ghouls who only get a scene each. Oh and despite bungling the Boston setting, they did at least get the name of one subway stop correct (Haymarket Station, on the Orange line), so I'll give them points for that. And I got the score on while writing this and it's quite good, but deserved a scarier movie.

"But you don't scare, so how can you say it's not scary?" longtime readers may ask. Because I went at a 5:30 showing on a Sunday, which means it had plenty of the teens the movie was aimed at, and apart from one "And then he pops into frame from around the corner" kind of scare involving Batalon's character, none of them uttered a peep during the entire thing. But it's not their fault; the first death, where a girl is basically beaten to death by one of those sliding attic ladders (the ghost, in the attic, keeps raising and then slamming it back down on the victim below) is as good as it got in the terror department. The film's C- cinemascore suggests it wasn't just a fluke audience, either.

Look, I take no pleasure in trashing the movie. I know it's hard to get a film made and theaters are hurting and all that, and I wish I could tell you something like "It's fine, your teenagers will love it at a sleepover" or something. But the on-rails presentation suggested that the studio just wanted to have a cheap horror movie in the pipeline to counter program whatever blockbuster it'd be opening against (The Fall Guy, in this case) and did absolutely nothing to ensure it would actually be, you know, good. I was not surprised at all to discover that the writer/directors are more often credited as producers (among their previous efforts: Moonfall and Expendables 4), as it certainly explained how the whole thing seemed reverse engineered from "We need a teen horror movie for under $10m" as opposed to any genuine inspiration. Even the whole "based on a book" part seems somewhat mercenary, like they acquired the rights to something that might have attracted the attention of people from my generation that fondly remembered the book from their school library, just to eke a few more bucks out of adults who'd otherwise steer far clear of such fare. Just a bit too much contempt for the audience for me. Even teens deserve better when they occasionally look up at the bigger screen.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Abigail (2024)

APRIL 19, 2024

GENRE: KILLER KID, VAMPIRE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

(THIS REVIEW ASSUMES YOU'VE SEEN THE TRAILER OR AT LEAST KNOW THE PREMISE! IF YOU DON'T, STOP READING!)

I've often wondered if anyone ever got the opportunity to watch From Dusk Til Dawn without knowing it was a vampire movie. For the first 45 minutes or whatever it was, there's nothing in the film to indicate anything supernatural would be happening; it's just a straight ahead hostage thriller with some humor, with the vampire stuff being sprung as a total surprise. But naturally, the marketing focused on that, so there was no way for us 90s kids to go in blind. But perhaps there's a better chance for it happening with Radio Silence's Abigail, which similarly doesn't tell you you're watching a vampire movie until about the halfway point and may frustrate some viewers who were sold on that very premise.

Luckily for me, I enjoyed my pre-vampire time quite a bit, as the film was loaded with actors I enjoy watching (Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton, Giancarlo Esposito, and - my man! - Kevin Durand) and their Reservoir Dogs-esque dynamic, where they've been assembled for a job under strict rule not to reveal anything personal about themselves and have been given code names (Joey, Dean, Frank, Sammy... either you'll get the theme or you'll need further explanation than I have space for here if I were to spell it out) to address one another. Joey is Melissa Barrera from the last two Scream movies, continuing her partnership with the Radio Silence team, and she's never been better, I must say. She's the requisite "criminal with a heart," as she has a young son that is currently with his father after she lost him due to a drug addiction she picked up during her time as a combat medic, using the money from their job to hopefully start a new life with him. Hard not to root for that!

Of course, if you're watching unaware then you can't root for her either, as the job is "kidnapping a little girl and holding her for ransom in a scary house." It's an odd disconnect; I never once really felt bad for the girl even when they have to knock her out to finish the kidnapping process, because I knew she was a little demon that could have killed them all right then and there if she wanted, but again, if some hypothetical person goes into this movie completely unaware, they'll probably have a tough time feeling for Joey even with her sob story. And the rest don't even have anything noble to even it out; an ex-cop, a mafia enforcer, a rich girl hacker... get em, Abby!

Even beyond that, the marketing and casting also kind of tips us off that despite the RD-esque setup that this won't be a movie about the team's paranoia turning them against each other. We know from the trailer that this house they all go to is actually HER house, and that their boss (Esposito) picked it specifically. And since Esposito exits after his first scene, we know they didn't cast him for that one rather thankless part, so basically while you're waiting for Abigail to show her true nature, you're also kind of waiting for the "reveal" that they were all set up by Esposito from the beginning. Amusingly, when Abigail explains why they were chosen, it comes off as a giant homage to another '90s crime classic - which Esposito was also in! So I can't help but wonder if Radio Silence intentionally cast him as tribute, only for the marketing to kind of gum up what also plays as a surprise reveal.

But like I said, it's fun to watch the group hang out, take shots at each other, attempt to bond (the late Angus Cloud, as the wheelman, gets plenty of laughs from his very terrible attempts to woo Newton's character), etc. And even though there are no specific "she's a vampire!" kind of things until she bares her fangs, there are some in-jokes that tell us what we're watching: she's introduced during her ballet routine set to "Swan Lake", and when Dan Stevens forgets to put on his mask when entering her room, he quickly tries to hide it by pulling his jacket over it, in a manner exactly like the not-Bela Lugosi guy in Plan 9. So there's plenty of amusement to be had, and while there might be a genre switcheroo (from thriller to vampire), it's *fun* from start to finish, which keeps it from a tonal inbalance. I feel an audience can go with anything a lot easier as long as the tone remains consistent, so it's only the severely impatient that should really have an issue.

Plus, it's not like they don't make it worth the wait. While the Screams made a lot more money we shouldn't forget that this is also the team that gave us Ready or Not, and whether they wanted to pay tribute to their first big success or just absolutely love doing it, there are once again very bloody body explosions in this movie, allowing nearly character to be drenched in blood at some point before they either die later or walk off into the sunrise. The compact cast (the six kidnappers, Esposito, and Abigail herself are the only people on-screen for 95% of the runtime) means the body count is obviously not going to be very high, but Abigail's pint-sized attacks means she doesn't always land a kill shot as quickly, so, yeah. Blood. Lots of it.

I also liked their take on vampires, where rather than just get the standard fangs she gets a row of sharp teeth over her normal ones, giving it a more monstrous flair than the typical bloodsucker. Her skills also involve flying, contortion, and (I think?) shape-shifting (there's a scene with a rat that suggests she turned into a cat? Unless I was just processing it wrong), but they never forget the fact that she's a ballerina either. So instead of just running she often twirls and Grand Jetes* her way towards her victims, a sight that never stopped being funny to me. And (spoiler that the trailer only offers a quick glimpse of) she does turn someone at some point, giving that actor even more fun stuff to do while also showing off a "puppet" skill where dance comes into play again, and the whole thing is set to Danzig's "Blood and Tears" for good measure. It's a truly awesome sequence.

It's also consistently funny, with very few duds in the attempts. Stevens' delivery of "F***in onions" (another character thinks they're a protective garlic) had me laughing for quite a while, and the reveal of his character's actual name is a funny little easter egg that pays homage to another filmmaking team he's worked with. And Kevin Durand is an absolute scene-stealer as a big lug who is a little slow to understand things but seems like perhaps the only genuinely decent person in the group except for Joey (his size and slow intellect kind of led him down the "bruiser" path more than any inherent malice), making him even more endearing than she is at times. His very late understanding of why they got the code names they got had me reeling. He's the main villain in the new Planet of the Apes movie too, so despite the mocap stuff obscuring his face I hope it catapults his star power a little; dude's been killing it for like 20 years now and deserves his due. If you can manage to entertain an audience during the insufferable Wolverine Origins, you deserve the world, far as I'm concerned.

OK ONE LAST SPOILER, I promise. Skip this next paragraph and the little one after it if you've been successfully hidden from some dumb social media bickering about the film's former connection to a certain vampire film of yore.

This movie was announced as a reimagining of Dracula's Daughter, and that information remains as current on the film's Wiki page, leading some lazy critics to accept it as fact. But she most certainly is NOT Dracula's daughter in the movie, because her dad shows up and I'm pretty sure they'd say his name if that's who he was (it's Grazer or something like that). However, those who have followed this movie from the time it was announced know that it only got its name very recently, and for a while was just referred to as "Untitled Radio Silence Universal Monster Movie." The fact that it took so long to say what it was actually called suggests to me that maybe the Dracula element was removed fairly late in the process, and that until then it was going to go out with that title OR they would call it whatever (including Abigail) and reveal her dad was Dracula when he showed up. Further, one could assume that since this is another comedic vampire movie from Universal, that said Drac would be played by Nic Cage, reprising his role from Renfield. But that film's total (undeserved!) failure probably would have put a stake into those plans even if that was indeed the case. Still, when her dad appears, it's an actor you might recognize, but he's hardly a big name worthy of a surprise appearance (though if you want to maybe grasp at straws, it IS kind of a funny bit of casting if you think about the title of this film that he starred in, but that's all I got). Nothing against him, he's not someone that the audience is going to be blown away by their sudden appearance, like Statham showing up at the end of Fast and Furious 6, or Sam Jackson in Iron Man, though the reveal plays like such moments.

(Ironically I had my money on someone even less exciting to a general audience: Henry Czerny, who appeared in Scream 6 and Ready or Not and even makes a random appearance in the film with his photo on one of the walls the characters slowly walk past. I would have cheered, anyway. Love that dude. But they shot the movie in Ireland, so maybe he was still in Prague.)

Besides that, my only issue is that the climax dragged, though that's been an issue with their other movies too so I can't say I was surprised. It's one of those things where things could have been wrapped up in the next five minutes, but instead they introduce another element that keeps it going. And then another element on top of that, so that what looked like the climactic scene ends up being almost an act onto itself. It also meant making one character I kind of liked as an anti-hero into a full on villain, so that was a bummer. It's mostly made up for by the final line from _______ to ______ before they explode (if you've seen it, the one involving "the cool s**t"), but it still could have been tightened. I know most people will complain it takes too long to get to the vampire stuff; I was mostly fine with that (if somewhat surprised at the delay) but weird ol' me started checking their watch during a bloody, stunt-filled battle. Just one turn too many for me.

Otherwise: total winner. I was sad but not particularly stunned to see that the box office wasn't all that great (better than Renfield at least), though I took solace with the decent Cinemascore (B, above average for horror) so maybe word of mouth will help out and it'll be a minor hit. But audiences just never tend to flock to see these kind of movies even in better theatrical times (even From Dusk Till Dawn, with a red-hot Clooney from ER and Tarantino's first script since Pulp Fiction, didn't perform all that well), and like Disney+, Universal has done itself no favors for its theatrical output (outside of major blockbusters) by training audiences to expect that they'll be on Peacock in a few weeks. You'll enjoy it just as much at home, I'm sure, but man. It'd be nice to see something like this get the "surprise smash" label, if only to ensure we get a few more before every decently budgeted (so, not Blumhouse, which keeps spending to a minimum) original horror goes extinct or streaming only. A friend of mine, who has been involved in some very gigantic movies (meaning: his stuff doesn't go streaming), believes that in 20-30 years, theatrical releases won't exist at all. *Theaters* will, but purely as a repertory or specialty thing, while the studios gradually lose interest just as audiences seemingly do, and put their slates on streaming (or whatever the next thing is) for mass audiences. People kept saying "superhero fatigue" led to the failure of the last couple Marvel movies, but if audiences want new things, they're not showing up for those either. I've stopped doing the bullying "YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS!" kind of thing that I used to, so see it or not, your call. But just know, the writing on the wall is getting easier to read by the day, and expecting to be able to go to the multiplex and seeing films like this alongside the "IP" stuff forever is perhaps misguided optimism.

What say you?

*I had to look it up, I assure you.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Death Carries A Cane (1973)

APRIL 17, 2024

GENRE: GIALLO
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

I picked up Forgotten Gialli Vol 6 at this year's Overlook, as Vinegar Syndrome had a table set up outside the box office all weekend and I wanted a "souvenir" from my trip (it might stun you to learn I'm not much of a knick-knack collector). But I was also delighted by this particular volume because it was only the 2nd time that it included a film I had actually seen before: The Bloodstained Shadow. I don't remember much about the film beyond the title, but according to my review it sounds like a pretty good "level 1" giallo: nothing special, but easy enough to follow and featuring enough of the genre's hallmarks to let a newcomer know if they should keep seeking other titles. Amusingly, I can say the same thing about Death Carries A Cane, so now I'm curious if the third movie on the set (Naked You Die) is the same way.

In fact the most disappointing part of the movie is the title. While Death Carries A Cane is certainly in line with any number of other entries produced at the time, the Italian title (Passi di danza su una lama di rasoio) translates to "Dance Steps on a Razor Blade", which is way more awesome. Why would they give it this comparatively bland one? Didn't they know that fifty years later we'd have easy access to online translators that could tell us what the on-screen Italian title actually meant in English? Fools.

At least it actually refers to something in the movie, for the killer does indeed carry a cane for his limp. I don't know if it's intentional, especially with the different language, but I applauded this plot point at the end when the motive is explained, because the killer also faked being impotent, which is (at least here/now) referred to as having a limp d**k. So he has two fake limps! I dunno, it amused me anyway.

Anyway, the plot is fairly basic: someone witnesses a murder and the cops are suspicious of their story, but eventually they partner up to find the real killer. The initial murder is one for the ages, because our heroine (the stunning Nieves Navarro, who has appeared in a few other gialli) accidentally sees it while looking through a coin operated telescope in the park, and the time runs out at a crucial moment. So she scrambles to get another coin in, by which time the killer has escaped but she can see that he clearly tumbled with a street vendor as he ran. She also can see the house number but not the street name, and I guess we just have to assume that she's unable to track a straight line from the telescope to wherever it's pointing to, because they can't even find a body at first. How powerful was this telescope and why were they wasting it on tourists?

Sure enough, the street vendor also ends up dead, as does someone else who witnessed the killer's panicked run from the murder scene, so he's covering his tracks and thus that puts Navarro in danger. It's a pretty good setup, I think; the "we can't find the street" thing doesn't entirely make sense but the frenzy of the scene sort of covers it up. And the murder scenes are well done and fairly suspenseful, checking the boxes at an even clip (the J&B bottle appears just past the half hour mark, for the record) while also adding in more skin/sex than average. Not in a sleazy way like Strip Nude For Your Killer (unwanted a**l sex is not played for laughs here!), though Navarro's boyfriend tells her to either get back in bed or he will slap her around, which is a weird choice.

(She chooses the former, thankfully. And he's quite gentle with her!)

It's also got enough of the weird little things that seemingly only happen in these movies and never stop amusing me, like the cop is always sharpening pencils. There's also a part where a guy has some info for the reporter, but forgets a detail and asks to use her phone to call his girlfriend who'd remember. He gets what he needs, but then keeps talking to her about what to make for dinner. It's so charming! I also had to laugh that their big plan to trap the killer involved having Navarro dress as a hooker and sport the bag the killer knows a witness had, but when a car pulls up and the driver has a cane, it turns out to just be the police captain who was, you know, just looking for a hooker. Whoopsie!

The ending is kind of a letdown though, as it's one of those ones where the culprit is shot down before they're even unmasked, and then someone else just explains everything real quick. The historians actually talk about this as a sort of "feature, not a bug" of the genre, and while they're probably right (they're the historians, I'm the guy listening at home while eating Little Debbies), I feel that the best ones don't do that and thus it shouldn't be something to shrug off as an unwritten rule. At least it involves the line "He pretended to have become impotent to protect me from his mental illness, which would have forced him to kill me," so there's something. The rest of the track is the usual bios and such, though there is one really weird part where one historian (who is recorded separately from the other two) is talking and then suddenly they edit in the other two over him, so for twenty seconds you're listening to DUAL AUDIO COMMENTARIES! Very Spielbergian. The only other extra is an interview with the editor, and it's in Italian and he covers his whole career so I can't say it held my interest. Looks like he has a nice house though, good to know editors make bank over there.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The First Omen (2024)

APRIL 10, 2024

GENRE: RELIGIOUS
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

In general, prequels rarely interest me. This goes double for horror, as the very nature of a prequel means filling in backstory, something few horror films/franchises benefit from. Even if I more or less like the movie, like TCM: The Beginning, the "prequelness" tends to drag the experience down (in that particular case: did I really need to know how Monty lost his legs?). So it's rather surprising that The First Omen works as well as it does, because not only is it telling the story of how Damien came to be conceived and thus keeping the series' marquee character out of it entirely, but it also kind of messes with established canon on top of it, which means it kind of fails at the one thing a prequel is supposed to do.

It's also surprising that it works considering it's essentially the same movie as Immaculate, and unlike other twin movies over the years (Volcano and Dante's Peak, Armageddon and Deep Impact, etc) I don't think it's just coincidence. As anyone who has listened to Immaculate's production history can attest, the script for the film has been around for years (Sidney Sweeney auditioned for an earlier incarnation that never got before cameras; when her star rose she remembered it and used her newfound clout to get it made) and thus very easily could have passed through the offices of the producers who made this movie. Not only does it have a generally similar plot (a very young American nun goes to a creepy religious group home in Italy and is impregnated with something unnatural), but a few scenes in this film are almost identical to ones we just saw in Immaculate (a nun's suicide in the courtyard of the building where the movie takes place, the heroine's roommate teasing her for being so conservative, etc.). It's enough to warrant looking into!

It also feels somewhat retrofitted into an Omen movie. The opening scene has a classic gory death like the older films offered, but this scene was added later after test screenings. And it also doesn't quite match up to what we learned of Damien's creation in the original movie, as if they skimmed a Wiki entry and fudged the details (I considered at first that they were actually just doing a reimagining from the ground up, but a picture of Gregory Peck as Damien's dad-in-waiting suggests it's meant to tie directly into Richard Donner's version of events). To be fair, I don't have any great affinity for the franchise; I don't think I've seen any of them except the original more than once, and even my rewatch of the OG was just to refresh for the one time I watched part 2. So I'm not gonna get all huffy about this or that change, just noting that it's kind of weird (and mildly suspicious) that it's so similar to an unrelated film already and then they bungle the things that could have set it further apart.

All that aside, it's another solid entry in the growing subgenre of body horror involving pregnancy, which smarter writers than me have already pointed out is probably the direct result of a government that seems so hellbent on rolling back certain medical rights of pregnant women. Our heroine Sr. Margaret (Nell Tiger Free, far more appealing and sympathetic than the actual Sr. Margaret I had in Catholic School, who was one of the absolute worst) comes to this Italian orphanage from America and almost instantly finds a kindred soul in Carlita, a young girl who is often isolated from the others there due to her sometimes disturbing behavior. As she digs deeper into Carlita's background, she also meets Father Brennan (Ralph Ineson in a rare non-villain role), the priest played by Patrick Troughton in the original movie. He suggests Carlita's behavior may be due to how she was born, and also that she may be targeted as the mother for the Antichrist.

More twists follow from there, so no sense getting into them (though if you think a major studio movie is going to let a 12 year old girl be the mother of a child, seek help and/or see more movies) except to say that the movie mostly works despite working toward a very obvious ending: the birth of Damien Thorn. The film's 1971 setting makes it very clear to those who remember the 1976 original that he will be born soon, though someone (my money is on producer David S. Goyer) felt we needed a moment where a character comes right out and says "They named the baby... Damien!" for audience members who hadn't made the connection yet, so maybe doing the "1971 plus five years" math IS indeed asking a lot of them.

But director Arkasha Stevenson (who also co-wrote) knows no one will wait until the end of the film for something scary to happen, so she gives us a few scares and deaths along the way; basically anyone trying to help Margaret discover the truth meets with a grisly end. One such death made me laugh out loud though, as the person is trapped by a crashed car at the waist and when someone tries to help them, they inadvertently rip the poor sod in half. And there's a little tribute to the "It's all for you" moment that adds a little fluorish (read: it's even more disturbing), so that was nice. Oh, there's also a Possession homage that comes at the tail end of Free performing an incredibly impressive/upsetting bit of physical acting, adding another highlight for those among us who know our horror of old.

Free is the highlight of what's already an impressive cast, including a trifecta of "Old UK guys who can make anything sound good" actors: Ineson, Charles Dance, and Bill Nighy. Dance is basically just a cameo (he's in that aforementioned tacked on opening), but Ineson and Nighy both get decently sized roles, offering some silly dialogue that still sounds good when it's coming out of their mouths (though the stupid "Damien" line is Ineson's, which puts that theory to its breaking point). It was also great to see Sonia Braga, as the head nun at the orphanage who may or may not be in on the Antichrist plans. Part of the fun of these movies, for me anyway, is that I believe anyone who wants to devote their life to the church must be unhinged and potentially evil, so when some kind of goofy villain plot is introduced, it's a joy to try to figure out which ones are part of it and which ones are just terrible in general.

Die hard aficionados of the franchise might be too annoyed by the minor changes to give the film a chance, and it's unfortunate that it's coming along so close after such a similar film (one that's a half hour shorter I might add!), but the tone here is pure horror, whereas Immaculate went for something a little more deranged/fun. I actually felt bad for laughing at that one part, as it was obviously not a film designed to get the crowd hooting and hollering (I just have a sick sense of humor!) and my outburst was not shared by anyone else in the room. But the point is, there's room for both right now, and we should consider ourselves lucky as genre fans to have two films in a not particularly common sub-genre in theaters at the same time. That they're both quite good and worth your time? That's some lottery level small odds.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Overlook 2024 Wrapup!

APRIL 4-7, 2024

GENRE: HORROR MOVIES!
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FESTIVAL SCREENINGS)

Back in the day, I used to mix things up with what festival I went to in a given calendar year, but at this point I barely even consider the others, zeroing in only on the Overlook Fest in New Orleans. While I would love to go to Frightfest UK again, and... well, I would enjoy the company at Fantastic Fest since a number of friends go (I don't particularly want to support the company anymore seeing as how they laid my ass off at the very beginning of Covid, not even a "furlough"), I just have too much fun gallavanting around New Orleans for four days to really debate going somewhere else instead. Summertime fests are a possibility, but when my kid is in school, it's just too much of a hassle for my wife to do the parenting gig solo for the better part of a week just so I can watch some horror movies.

Some GOOD horror movies, I should say, and ones I might not get a chance to see in theaters with appreciative crowds again. I just looked at the films I enjoyed the most at last year's festival, and some still haven't even come out (Trim Season, which is finally hitting limited theaters and VOD in June) and the others, like Clock, were streaming movies. And Renfield, alas, never had any packed screenings if its depressing box office was any indication. Apart from the 2022 lineup, which I assume was very slim pickings on account of Covid, they've always delivered a solid mix of titles at the fest, and specifically horror (or close cousins like thriller or dark comedy), whereas FF dips its toes into pretty much everything.

And as I've done for the past couple years, I bought my own pass instead of trying to attend as press, so that I could just enjoy myself and not worry about filing reviews right away, or jotting down notes as I watched to make sure I was covering all my bases. But I figured it'd be nice to say a few things about what I saw, if for nothing else but to provide you folks with a few titles worth keeping an eye out for (and for me to quickly consult what I saw as time passes and I forget).


I DON’T UNDERSTAND YOU

The official opening night movie was Cuckoo, starring Dan Stevens, but it was at a theater further uptown that required transportation and also a bit of optimism, as badgeholders aren’t always guaranteed to get into every screening if everyone has the same idea. At the main theater, there’s always another option, but at this single screen location a potentially pricy Uber drive away, you might end up seeing nothing. So I stuck around the main theater and checked out this dark comedy instead, and I’m glad I did so as I don’t know if I’ll get another opportunity to watch it with a big appreciative audience. It’s an absolute crowd pleaser in the same vein as Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, in which a couple (Nick Kroll and Andrew Rannells) who are about to adopt a baby take a last “just us” kind of vacation to Italy. Unfortunately, the language barrier (Kroll is trying to learn the language via Duolingo) and some other standard mishaps result in them in a location that SEEMS like your standard Texas Chain Saw Massacre type house, and they act accordingly.

The truth is, of course, that the people there mean no harm, but their inability to properly communicate results in much comic bloodshed. Honestly it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time; the chemistry between Kroll and Rannells is dynamite, and the smart script gets a lot of mileage from the idea that they think they’re being targeted for being gay when in reality the people they encounter are actually quite accepting of it (one Italian word sounds unfortunately close to a particular gay slur, which doesn’t help). And the gore gags are well done, so even though it’s not really a horror movie by any means, anyone who might have felt “duped” by seeing it at a genre festival should have been sated anyway. Keep an eye out for this gem.


THINGS WILL BE DIFFERENT

This was produced by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (writer/director Michael Felker is their longtime editor) so it automatically got my attention. And the plot sounded intriguing; a brother and sister pair rob a bank and then hide out in an isolated farm that has a time traveling closet on its second floor, which will allow them to transport themselves to another period in time, hide for two weeks, and then return to their own time when the smoke has cleared (at no point does anyone explain how disappearing for two weeks after a robbery is the best way to escape attention, but I guess if time travel is real in this world then maybe applying real world logic isn’t a sound idea). Alas, when the two week period is up, they find themselves unable to return, and they are instructed by someone in the future (or past?) via tape recordings that someone is planning to disrupt the space time continuum and they need to wait there and kill them when they arrive.

It’s at this point that things start to go awry, as the vague time travel mechanics, plus the overseeing time travel… police? I guess? (Very TVA from Loki, which Benson and Moorhead steered through its 2nd season) start to ask more of the audience than the film is seemingly willing to offer in return, resulting in a frustrating back half. And it doesn’t help that the film’s closing sequence presents an idea that is fascinating and perhaps should have been a midway or even end of act 2 twist, so that the rest of the movie could have had fun exploring it a little. Instead we just get endless scenes of the brother and sister staring out at the surrounding area of their farm waiting for their unidentified attacker to finally show (their identity, when finally revealed, shouldn’t surprise anyone, though there’s next to no explanation of how they got involved in all of this). There are some fun moments with time travel logic, like when the sister (Riley Dandy) opens a cupboard to find it empty, slams it shut in frustration, and then opens it again to find it fully stocked (thanks to someone in the future sending it back into the past), but for every cute moment like that there are a handful of plot points that are woefully underdeveloped.


TRIVIA

As always, I opted out of whatever movies were showing at the time to go offsite somewhere and participate in the annual horror trivia game that the fest (and Daily Dead) put together. Unlike our own horror trivia game here in LA, this one is always at a bar, so it’s nice to get progressively more and more tipsy as I search my brain for otherwise useless facts in order to win a Blu-ray. Sadly, while we did win a round (actually two, but to give everyone a chance to win stuff, you can only take prizes once), my hard-won copy of Smile (on 4K UHD no less) was later left behind in the theater. Oh well. I was really only playing for the glory of being, perhaps, part of the only team in the venue who knew the name of the actress who played Sr Margaret in Silent Night Deadly Night.


ODDITY

Finally, a legit horror movie! And a really good one! (Indeed, as I was writing, word just came in that it won the festival's audience award.) The story concerns a woman who is murdered at an isolated house that she’s in the process of restoring, seemingly by a former patient of her psychiatrist husband. A year later, her twin sister (who is blind and also a psychic) starts to wonder if the man being blamed is truly the murderer, and… well, that’s when things get into spoiler territory, so I’ll hush up.

I CAN say that the movie (which occasionally employs the use of non-chronological storytelling to let us know things when we need to know them) offers some terrific scares and suspense, including a jump scare that actually made ME utter a little frightened sound, which hasn’t happened in ages (usually at best I just jump a little). Those who enjoyed Talk To Me will be right at home here, as it has the same kind of tense moments and reliance on a strange haunted artifact, in this case a wooden mannequin that may be able to come to life. Also, without spoiling particulars, if you enjoy seeing terrible men get their just deserts, you’ll walk out fully satisfied. This was my favorite movie of the fest, and can’t wait for it to hit Shudder so more people can enjoy.


IN A VIOLENT NATURE

I’m always up for a deconstruction of my beloved slasher movies, but unfortunately In A Violent Nature’s “promising on paper” pitch - a Jason movie where you’re with Jason the entire time – doesn’t translate into a fully satisfying film. After being revived from the events of some previous adventure, we do indeed stick with the hulking Johnny (who also has mother issues and prowls the woods; unlike Leslie Vernon’s amalgamation of several slashers, Johnny is clearly just Jason) for the majority of the film’s runtime. But here's the thing: said runtime is 96 minutes, which is more than most actual Jason movies. And that’d be fine if there was more going on here, but I’d estimate a full 75% of the movie is just Johnny walking through the woods, with the camera pointed at his back. There are a handful of victims of course, and the edit gives us just enough to detect their basic archetypes and even a little bit of their customary drama (one guy is being a jerk to his girlfriend, another still pines for his ex who is now with another guy, etc), but let’s put it this way: if filmed traditionally this would be among the least interesting slasher movies we’ve seen in ages.

Personally, I think it'd be funnier/more interesting if the victim group was absolutely fascinating, and the movie denied us resolutions or context for their ongoing issues because Johnny himself wasn’t interested and opted to just wander away to find easier prey. That said the trailer is hardly misleading, as it (like the film) is mostly just shots of Johnny’s back, so it's not like they're hiding what the overall experience is like. And it does contain a nice surprise for Friday the 13th hardcore fans (a certain victim of yesteryear pops up as a Good Samaritan), so that was appreciated. I think it will go over well with the people who love the Terrifier movies, as those too are endlessly dull for a while before offering a ridiculous and well-executed kill scene (the yoga one here is an all timer, for sure). But if you. like me, aren’t just showing up to these things to see the kills, I don’t know how much entertainment value it’ll ultimately provide.


BLACKOUT

Over the years, Larry Fessenden has become one of the most reliable genre filmmakers, taking familiar tropes and monsters and putting his own “somber” (his word) spin on them. Here it’s the familiar werewolf tale; our hero Charley (Alex Hurt) has been cursed with lycanthropy and, sure enough, a new full moon is approaching. And when a friend of his is accused of a recent murder that he knows he committed while under its spell, he decides that he needs to put his affairs in order and capture his confession and subsequent transformation on camera, to clear his friend’s name and explain to his former girlfriend why he suddenly broke up with her. Honestly I may have liked the movie even more if it had a 25th Hour style setup and took place all in one day; a slow burn leading to his only transformation, or at least showing the other times as flashbacks. But I’m sure the distributor is happy to have something a little more commercially minded, and Fessenden’s couple decades of experience have allowed him to rope in a bunch of familiar faces for bit parts: Kevin Corrigan, Barbara Crampton, and Joe Swanberg all pop up for a scene or two.

But the real appeal is Alex Hurt, who was the son of the late William Hurt (who, via photographs, plays his father here) and is just as compelling to watch. There are only a few scenes in the movie he’s not in, and his performance allows the movie to pass the crucial test for a werewolf movie: you feel bad for him even though he’s technically a murderer. It’s honestly one of the best werewolf movies I’ve seen in ages, and the final scene suggests we haven’t seen the last of him just yet. Count me in.


SCREAM DREAMS

I took another break from moviegoing to attend a taping of the Scream Dreams podcast, hosted by Catherine Corcoran, James Janisse, and Barbara Crampton (her again!). Janisse wasn’t there due to a convention appearance elsewhere, but that was OK as it allowed Crampton to take a bigger role than she usually does on the show, where she only pops in during its final 15 minutes. The guest was David Dastmalchian, who is always interesting to listen to, and we all got a tote bag for attending. In a city that charges for plastic bags at the grocery store, a new tote is always a plus. The episode should be available soon for their subscribers, keep an ear out!


ARCADIAN

Nic Cage fighting monsters is an easy sell for me, but this "A Quiet Place meets Darkness Falls" exercise doesn’t utilize his talents, making me wish they hired someone a bit cheaper and maybe put more money into another action scene or fleshing out the ones they had. Cage gets top billing but I can’t imagine anyone will be surprised when he is seriously injured at the halfway mark and barely appears after that – it’s just how it goes with these things nowadays. Instead we spend more time with his twin sons (not identical), who he has been caring for as a single dad since the monsters arrived 15ish years prior. And that’s fine, but… it’s just not particularly interesting or novel to see them go through the motions. It’s also too vague; it’s obvious that the monsters do not like the light and only freely roam at night, but it’s not like they melt or anything like vampires do in the sunlight, so they’re just… what? Wusses? It’s clear someone said “What if Quiet Place but light instead of sound?” and never really developed it further than that.

At least the monsters are cool. Like all modern movie monsters they move too fast/blurrily to really get a good look at them, but they DO offer – a few times! – shots of their mouth/teeth, which basically operate like out of control staplers? It sounds goofy but it’s actually quite effective in practice, and the sequence where they finally cut loose (against some out of nowhere evil humans, as if someone rushed on set at the 11th hour and reminded the rest of the crew that any movie like this that doesn’t have a “but man is the REAL monster” moment will be susceptible to fines) is pretty great. It’s fine, just not befitting Cage’s talents, especially at a time when he’s talking about retiring after a few more movies.


SHORTS COLLECTION

At this time I was very determined to be watching Azrael, a film I did the opening AND closing titles for (usually I only handle the latter) and was thus excited to see them on the big screen. But alas (for me, not the filmmakers) they had to turn folks away because it was such a hot ticket, and I was one of the ones who didn’t get in. If I hadn’t stopped for a coffee…

But luckily, the collection of shorts I saw instead was pretty great! These things can be hit or miss, as I’m sure everyone who has ever attended a “short block” can attest, but even the weakest one (out of eight) was still pretty good. I particularly enjoyed “Zit” from Amber Neukum, in which an office manager hoping to get a promotion is dismayed to discover a pimple on her forehead that proceeds to grow and bleed profusely as the day continues. However none of her coworkers can see it, so the comedic thrust is seeing her increasingly frazzled state as she tries to keep it together and not blow her promotion. Hannah Alline is absolutely perfect in the lead role, and kudos to her for pulling the whole thing off with that disgusting makeup effect on her at all times. I also enjoyed "MLM" from Brea Grant, which took the ongoing cult-like pyramid scheme nature of these things and took it to its extreme while also taking shots at online influencers (the full subject of another short titled, yes, "The Influencer" - also quite good!). And it had Barbara Crampton as the president of the company they work for! She was everywhere!


I SAW THE TV GLOW

I was totally with this movie until its final ten minutes, at which point it… I actually don’t even know how to describe it, beyond noting it involves a time jump for the main character. But until then, it’s a lovely and haunting look at how our childhood nostalgia can inform much (too much, if I’m interpreting things correctly) of how we try to navigate young/regular adulthood. The two leads’ shared love of a TV show that seems to be equal parts Buffy and Twin Peaks is something anyone can probably connect to, and how such shared adolescent things can be a tether to that person as we grow up and apart, for better or worse.

Most people absolutely loved it; I would probably be in their company if it didn’t spend the last chunk of its runtime making me wonder if I had accidentally blacked out for a half hour and missed something. Not really horror per se, but the lead villain of the TV show is a damned freaky sight to behold. Great soundtrack too. I absolutely plan to watch it again, as maybe it will unlock some answers (often the case with something told out of order, and more so when you're watching on very little sleep), so I'll revise at the time. Either way it got me more interested in checking out We're All Going to the World's Fair, the previous film from writer/director Jane Schoenbrun.


INFESTED

My last film of the fest was also my only foreign language one (not counting one of the shorts and a few scattered lines of Italian in I Don’t Understand You). And if you’re arachnophobic, you’ll also probably consider it to be the scariest movie they showed there. Basically a spider-fied version of Attack the Block, our hero Kaleb sells stolen sneakers and is also a budding zoologist who collects reptiles and insects, so naturally he eagerly buys a spider off a dealer who warns him that it might be dangerous and brings it to his apartment home. Surprising no one, the spider gets loose and starts to breed, and at some point we learn that this particular type of spider can grow in size as a defense mechanism. And then those bigger spiders start laying eggs, and… well, you get the idea. Before long the building is… what’s the word, oh yeah, infested! by all sizes of spiders: tiny ones that can sneak through your vents and under doors, and bigger ones that you can’t just swat away. The police quarantine the building, but our heroes are determined to get out… not everyone makes it.

Again, if you harbor a deep fear for the creepy crawlies, this might be unbearable to watch, as they think of pretty much every single way a spider can ick you out and add in the (less likely) idea that it can also kill you. But it started to wear a bit thin for me after a while; the film runs 105 minutes and I really started to feel it after a certain point, particularly when the cops turn aggro out of nowhere. The final scene, which finally explains Kaleb’s movie-long opposition to making promises, brings things back and even got me a little touched, but I think if they found a way to speed things up in the front and stay a little more focused in the third act that this could be an all timer monster movie (like Attack the Block). But hey, pretty good and worth watching isn’t too shabby, either.


Overall it was a solid fest; as with last year I didn’t dislike anything I saw, and I saw a good mix of selections that were on my radar already (Infested, Arcadian) and films I knew absolutely nothing about (Oddity, I Don’t Understand You). I sadly didn’t get to do any of the immersive stuff this time around (they now require separate paid tickets for such things, and as I like to just follow my bliss and keep options open, I didn’t want to lock myself into anything), but trivia and the podcast taping kept the “more than just movies” vibe alive for me. Plus, let’s face it: the city is half the fun anyway. If they relocated the festival to, I dunno, Cleveland or Des Moines, I’m not sure I’d make it a point to go every year. But as long as they’re in a city that I can walk around with my beer and listen to buskers perform Dark Side of the Moon on a trumpet outside of a fresh beignet joint (and they keep it to spring, before the humidity there hits its awful stride), I’ll be there.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Critters 3 (1991)/Critters 4 (1992)

MARCH 22, 2024

GENRE: ALIEN, MONSTER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

I normally don't combine reviews, but they more or less combined the productions of Critters 3 and Critters 4, so I feel it's fitting. And really I just don't have a lot to say about them, so they would be very short reviews on top of it. Least this way you guys are getting something that'll last your whole trip to the bathroom or waiting for your microwave meal to finish. A review that's too short will have you wandering over to Twitter or something. Can't have that.

Anyway, as fans know, these entries went direct to video after the 2nd film flopped in theaters but did OK on VHS, enough to show New Line that there was interest in more Krite adventures just not enough to warrant a big screen release. And at this time they were doing quite well for themselves with the Ninja Turtles movies and branching out into comedies with the House Party franchise, so (in keeping with the first half of the '90s Hollywood-wide declining interest in horror) it made sense to explore the direct to video market with a known but not particularly lucrative brand. Did it work? I dunno. Apparently not since there was never a proper Critters 5.

It didn't help that the first of the two releases was pretty bad even by franchise standards (sorry folks, I know they have their fans but even the first two are just OK to my eyes). The concept seemed like a winner; taking things out of the farm/small town locales of the first two and sending a new batch of Krites into a major city. Unfortunately with the budget they had, that major city (Los Angeles or New York; the people who made the damn thing can't seem to agree on the bonus features) is represented by a handful of generic establishing shots of some kind of urban environment before setting the entire movie in a single apartment building. Not a high rise, mind you, just a three story dwelling with a handful of apartments. Demons 2 it is not.

It's also incredibly slow paced, a problem that plagued the first two movies but is even worse here. Once again the body count is ridiculously low, as the furballs only kill a mere two people out of the eight or so running around the building (not to mention the possibilities since they're supposedly in a major metropolitan area). And that'd be fine if they were spaced out, but nope, they die almost back to back around the middle of the movie, leaving the rest of it to repetitive scenes of the people scurrying around the building trying to find a way out. At one point someone tries to get out by climbing down a cable outside, and they get their foot caught in the wire and spend the rest of the movie dangling back and forth trying to reach a phone booth. Not is this a weird thing to spread out for what seems like a full half hour, but it also just reminds us that they're not in any actual major city, because someone would have walked by and helped (or robbed them).

Besides a handful of decent FX from the reliable Chiodo brothers, the only thing about the movie that anyone will or should remember is that it features a young Leonardo DiCaprio in his first film. There isn't much on display to tell us that he'll go on to be one of the most in demand actors of his generation, but he's certainly got more presence than most of his co-stars and just the sheer novelty helps keep it somewhat watchable (at least, NOW it does. Not sure about in 1992 when few knew who he was). Sadly he barely appears in the climax, adding to the movie's inability to generate any excitement.

Despite being a back to back production, Critters 4 doesn't bring Leo or anyone else along for the ride outside of Terrence Mann (Ug) and Don Keith Opper (Charlie), who appear in all four films in various capacities. Mann technically doesn't really appear in C3 at all, since his lone scene is just a post credits thing that bridges this film's events with C4, which repeats the scene anyway. As for Opper, he basically has an extended cameo in 3 (showing up for one scene at the beginning and a chunk of the end) but has more to do in 4, though after the opening he disappears again for a half hour or so. The film also doesn't even take place in the same spot, setting its events in space instead of Earth.

Of all the horror franchises that went to space it's the only one that has a natural reason to do so (being that the Krites are aliens and Ug and his pals are intergalactic bounty hunters), so it's a shame they waited until they only had a nickel and some plywood to sell the concept, but honestly it's not that bad (at least, compared to 3). It's got a solid cast: Brad Dourif, Eric DaRe from Twin Peaks, Anders "Radu" Hove, and even Angela Bassett (a year before What's Love Got To Do With It) populate the spaceship that picks up Charlie's floating pod in deep space and brings him - and the Krite eggs he's got with him - on board while out hunting for salvage.

It's also got some much needed humor, another thing in short supply in the third one. Dourif as always brings some kooky readings and mannerisms that are worth a smile, but the real godsend is the idea that the obligatory all knowing/all controlling ship computer (voiced by Martine Beswick!) only responds to reverse psychology, so they have to keep saying things like "Don't open the door to Pod B" in order to get her to do it. It's silly but damned if it didn't make me chuckle every time. I also enjoyed that instead of a nonstop countdown during the (also obligatory) self destruct sequence, she played a song that lasted the three minutes. It was like a low key Douglas Adams kind of gag that I appreciated.

Also, while the Critters don't appear as often as they usually do, they at least make it count when they do, with two gnarly deaths of main characters and a handful of brief attacks on some generic stormtrooper types who accompany Ug when he finally shows up in the last 20 minutes. There's also an F bomb and some gunshot deaths (also with some blood) making me wonder if this one actually got an R rating, but it apparently still managed a PG-13 like the much tamer earlier entries. So yeah, no giant ball of Critters or even much in the way of Gremlins-esque chaos, but at least they upped the body count to make up for it.

Both films have 20ish minute retrospectives with Opper, Mann, writer David J. Schow, the Chiodos, the DP, and some others, along with a commentary track. 3's track, with Opper and his brother Barry who produced them all is just as boring as the film, as neither man seems particularly excited about doing it (they also did tracks for the first two movies on this boxed set, so maybe it was one long session and they were worn out?). They skip part 4 but instead we get one with the director, Rupert Harvey, who also produced the first and third films (he missed out on Critters 2 because he was producing The Blob - good call!). Unfortunately, he's moderated by Michael Felsher, who (as is nearly always the case) doesn't seem to care much about doing a track for the film itself as much as he is covering the person's entire filmography. Which is probably fine if you happen to be a big fan of theirs, but if I sit down to watch a commentary on Critters 4 I don't particularly care about hearing about the MPAA's issues with the Nightmare on Elm St 5 poster. It's one thing when he's with a supporting actor who isn't in every scene anyway, but it's insane to me to have the director of a film for a commentary that doesn't even specifically mention that film for over an hour into its runtime. Somehow you learn more about its production from a 20 minute piece with some assorted cast and crew than you do with a 95 minute track spotlighting the one person who was involved in every aspect of its making.

Anyway, I don't think I'll be keeping this set, which has been sitting there unopened for over five years waiting for reappraisals on the first three and my first time viewing of the fourth (I rented 3 on VHS back in the day and remember disliking it then. I was only 12! You like everything at that age!). Except for 3, none of them are particularly bad, but they're too uneventful to warrant repeat viewings, and I can have those itches scratched with other, better movies (tiny creatures? Gremlins! The wizardry of the Chiodo brothers? Killer Klowns! Intergalactic bounty hunters coming down to earth? I Come In Peace! etc.). My boxed set shelf is overflowing and most of them (F13, Halloween, Universal Monsters) get pulled off repeatedly or at least contain movies I genuinely love. This series just never really won me over, despite my efforts, and I know it'll just sit there untouched for decades now that I've gone through it all. Though I also have the 2019 reboot Critters Attack somewhere, so I guess I"m not COMPLETELY done with the franchise.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Immaculate (2024)

FEBRUARY 27, 2024

GENRE: RELIGIOUS
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (ADVANCED SCREENING)

Before this advanced screening of Immaculate began, director Michael Mohan came out and listed some of the movies that influenced this one, such as The Devils and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, but the title that really piqued my curiosity was Barbarian. Faithful readers of the site might wonder why there is no Barbarian review here, but the simple reason is I refused to, because it was so damn good but also benefited greatly from having no idea what it was about (for those still in the dark, I will say it's not about a barbarian), so I wanted to help as many people go in as blind as I did. This one isn't quite as surprising throughout, though the comparison IS apt, because like that film I am guessing few if any will be able to guess what the final 20 minutes of Immaculate are about based on its first half.

Since the trailer's been running for a while now I think it's OK to sum up the same thing it tells you: the movie stars Sydney Sweeney as a nun named Cecilia who has recently relocated to a sort of nursing home/convent in Italy where older nuns go once they can no longer care for themselves, making sure their final days on earth are as comfortable and cheery as possible. But being that Cecilia is a young American who has just arrived at a new isolated place in Europe you know damn well that there's something creepy going on and she will just as certainly be the newest target for whatever that is. And she also finds herself pregnant, despite being a virginal nun who took a vow of chastity, but if you think about the film's title and are caught up on Jesus Christ's wiki page you should know it's not much of a mystery what might be happening there.

That's all I'll say about the film's plot; there are some twists and surprises along the way that I wouldn't dream tipping you off about (though I can't help myself fully - I need to at least get it on the record that I was in no way expecting to be reminded of a certain polarizing '90s sequel when I sat down for the film. Once you see the movie you'll probably know the one I mean if you're a proper franchise aficionado). But I can say without spoiling anything that, at least for me, the film's pivots worked like gangbusters, and while a "Nunsploitation purist" (if such a thing exists) might cry foul that it doesn't follow the usual formula, I had an absolute blast and was full on cackling for most of the final reel, as the movie just WENT FOR IT in ways that made me quite pleased.

Because, and I'm sure you've surmised as much if you dutifully read my reviews (or at least, my letterboxd), I'm getting tired of the A24-ization of horror as of late. You know, the "elevated" stuff. I'm fine with seeing some of those every now and then, and some I quite like (The Witch, Midsommar, X...), but I feel there are now too many others competing for that same piece of the pie, and simply not enough fun horror movies coming along (not to mention attracting A list talent like Sweeney, whose star is on the rise and yet, per Mohan, loved the script so much she threw her weight behind it as a producer to make sure it got made). The last couple horror movies I saw in theaters were Out of Darkness and Stopmotion, both of which I'd describe with words like "grim" and "cold."

Again, nothing wrong with that! But we need balance, and based on the trailer I figured this would follow suit. I was not expecting to cheer and applaud a well timed bit of profanity. And given my own views on catholicism (due to my fairly strict upbringing and subsequent realization that this was no way to live your life), seeing the blasphemy on display—including a crucifix used to bludgeon someone—just kept me fully entertained, smiling and laughing as opposed to getting all bummed out like I figured I would. Not that the trailer is misleading, mind you—it's just that it focuses on the first half when it comes to what it shows in context, leaving the second half a complete surprise, at least to me.

It's also pretty scary! In a jump horror kind of way to be fair, but an effective jolt isn't the easiest thing to pull off. Believe me, I've watched enough James Wan wannabes (James Wannabes?) in the past few years to know that it can get far too easy to spot them coming, as if the directors only know one way to pull them off. Here there are at least three good ones, four if you count one that's given away in the trailer (though in context it kind of works again even though you know it's coming? Impressive!), plus some solid suspense and nail-biter type scenes, like an extended bit where Sweeney attempts to escape and Mohan's camera refuses to show you how close her pursuers are.

Speaking of Sweeney, I'm not as smitten with her as many of my contemporaries (more like downright obsessed in some of y'all cases) but I enjoyed her work here. I'm always impressed when a name actress fully commits to the nonsense one might endure in a horror movie (i.e. getting covered in blood, screaming her damn head off, etc.) and wasn't sure if she had it in her, but I was happily wrong. I can't spoil the particulars of course, but there's one long take that's essentially just her face for the most part, and even if it was the first and only take she deserves our respect. If she had to do it multiple times and that was like take six or whatever? Hell, give her the Fangoria Chainsaw Award right now. Or maybe even the Spirit Award, I think it qualifies.

(I know better than to consider hoping for an Oscar nom. Not that it's on that level anyway, but if they didn't even consider Toni Collette, ain't no genre actress getting a chance ever again.)

A few people walked out (including the couple in front of me and my friend, so thanks for the improved line of sight, losers!), and given the fact that this particular screening was a Beyond Fest-hosted one (i.e. a crowd who should be fully ready for anything) I'm guessing there will be some similar reactions at large when it hits release. If I'm right, it's their loss, and they can go home and watch Consecration if they demand their nun horror be all moody and dour. For everyone who isn't too precious about these things, I hope you'll check it out; I feel that a proper crowd (which we got, outside of those few sticklers) will aid greatly in the enjoyment. It isn't high art or anything, but sometimes it's just nice to see a horror movie that does the basics right (it has some scares! It has a couple of gruesome deaths! It's not something that'll ever actually happen!), and a rare genre heroine outside of the slasher film that does applause-worthy things to survive. AND it breaks like, three of the Commandments, for good measure.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)

FEBRUARY 28, 2024

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

There are currently 11 Hellraiser movies, and as many reviews tagged "Hellraiser" here on HMAD (well, 12 now if you feel like seeing for yourself), so I actually forgot that I never reviewed Hellraiser: Inferno back in the day, as it seemed "complete." I knew I saw it pre-HMAD, but same went for 1-4 and I got those taken care of along the way, so I'm not sure how/why Inferno (the 5th entry, if you've forgotten) got skipped over in those rewatches, especially considering in my memory I actually thought it was pretty good. So for anyone who has been waiting over a decade for me to finish up the Doug Bradley era of the franchise: today's your day!

The biggest complaint about the DTV ones (well, maybe not Hellworld) is that Pinhead doesn't appear in them very much. It's an odd complaint considering he's barely in the original, either, but I was amused that it's similar to the hate for the 5th Friday the 13th movie because Jason isn't in it. He's not in the first one either! How often do you hear fans complaining that a sequel is trying to bring things back to the original, which is usually the favorite? Wackiness. But yeah, he's barely in it, and his first appearance seems shoehorned in to try to rectify that, but it's a bad call.

Because really, the worst thing about the movie is that it's "Hellraiser 5" instead of a movie called Inferno. I get the "Where's Pinhead?" complaints in a way, but the film is structured in a way that doesn't rely on him the way the previous sequels did. The Lament Configuration gets more screentime, I think, as it appears almost instantly at a crime scene. Our protagonist is Joseph (Craig Sheffer), a corrupt cop who pockets the cash from victims' wallets, lies to his wife to go sleep with prostitutes, and does up close magic for other grown adults - in other words, he's kind of awful. Anyway he finds the LC at a crime scene and, as a bit of a puzzle nerd, keeps it for himself and maybe, just maybe, opens it.

Now, in any other Hellraiser movie, that would mean Pinhead would show up and start causing problems. But here his brief experience after Joseph fiddles with the box is treated as a nightmare, and as the movie continues following Joseph's investigation that started with the crime scene, feeling more like something like 8MM than a supernatural horror film. Not that the case isn't gruesome; a child's finger was found and the killer, known as "The Engineer", seems to be keeping the kid alive, so Joseph becomes hellbent on finding him. As the investigation gets more dangerous and disturbing (he has visions of cenobite type figures, the hooker he slept with is murdered, as is one of his informants, etc.) he starts to wonder if the box has somethng to do with it. And guess what? It does!

So unfortunately it's one of those sequels in which the audience is too far ahead of the characters, unless they for some reason are watching this as their first Hellraiser movie and have zero knowledge of the series when sitting down for it. If that's you, great, but you're also like 1% of the crowd at most. Curiously, writer/director Scott Derrickson (this was his debut as director) did the same thing with Sinister 2 (which he wrote but did not direct), giving the hero a mystery to solve that we already know the answer to. It's hard to recover from that sort of disconnect when it's treated as a "what's going on?" kind of mystery film, as opposed to Friday the 13th part whatever when a new group of idiots arrive at Crystal Lake without knowing anything about Jason. They're not exactly poring over newspaper clippings and police reports to figure out who the hockey masked guy is, you know? They're unaware and then they're dead, and it's fine.

But if you ignore the Hellraiser-ness and just go for the ride of this dirtbag getting what's coming to him, it's a solid time. The Jacob's Ladder/David Lynch-esque touches keep it visually engaging throughout, and Derrickson gets every bit of his meager budget on screen. Plus it's just enjoyably weird at times, in particular when Sheffer goes to a saloon in the middle of nowhere (already weird!) and proceeds to get his ass kicked by two long haired Asian cowboys. He also spends an extended (dream/hallucination/whatever) scene shotgunning his parents who have become cenobite/zombie things, and his own family ends up on a rotating pillar like the one from the first movie. And if you're a Nightbreed fan, please enjoy the fact that Craig Sheffer has now played two (2) Clive Barker characters who are set up by their psychiatrist, though here it's (spoiler for 24 year old movie ahead) actually Pinhead in disguise.

And keeping with the spoilers, while I'm sure it's not the first movie to do so, and also kind of changes the canon version of what Hell is in this world, I like the idea that he's stuck in an endless loop of being made miserable as his eternal punishment for the misery he inflicted on others when he was alive. He has to keep seeing his family die, chased around by demons, etc. and when he tries to kill himself to get out of it, he just ends up back at the beginning of the loop again. I try not to think about the afterlife too much, but the idea of hell just being in a cycle of reliving your worst memories for eternity sounds far worse than some kind of "you just burn forever" kind of scenario.

Plus I have to admire that it took efforts to return the series to its roots. I like Hellbound as much as the original, but I have little use for 3 or 4 (though in the latter's case it COULD have been good if the Weinsteins hadn't Weinstein'd it), and none of them really seemed to get that the Cenobites weren't supposed to be the main attraction. Like the original, this is a movie about someone whose endless thirst for hedonistic pleasure results in them delving into things they shouldn't, resulting in their very gruesome and supernaturally-charged death. It doesn't mention any of the other films' events; even when the history of the Lament Configuration is explained to Sheffer's character, it's more of a vague idea of what it's been through as opposed to "And then one time this douche who ran a nightclub got a hold of it...". So I appreciated that they were at least trying to get things back on track, even if it was kind of a silly thing to do now that the series was going DTV and thus only the most die-hard fans would likely be bothering to watch.

The blu-ray I have is paired with Bloodline, from an Echo Bridge release. Since I recently got Arrow's 4K UHD set of 1-4, I looked to see if Inferno had ever been available on its own so I wouldn't have TWO Bloodlines in the house (I mean, I only have one Godfather. It just doesn't seem right to have twice as many "Pinhead in Space!"s), but all I found was another EB multipack that added Hellseeker and Hellworld to the mix. I nearly bought that one before I realized Deader got left out, so it's a set of 4-6 and 8? Why? More annoying, Deader DID get its own release, also from Echo Bridge, but it's long out of print and goes for over 300 bucks on eBay, which... no. I'm not even sure what studio owns these movies anymore, but maybe since they did it for Amityville, Vinegar Syndrome (or someone like them) can make a nice set of Bradley's DTV era (so, Inferno through Hellworld) and I can get rid of this janky-ass disc that doesn't even have subtitles, let alone the bonus features from the DVD.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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